UPDATED: Unhealthy horses seized, owner charged

A follower of the Facebook page "Morgan Hill Horses in Need" posted this photo of one of the unhealthy horses housed at the Maple Avenue ranch. 

Santa Clara County officials and animal advocates are seeking responsible owners for 38 unhealthy horses seized from a pair of ranches in Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

The owner of the horses, Humberto Rivas Uribe, 51 of Morgan Hill, was charged Nov. 14 with two counts of cruelty to animals—one felony and one misdemeanor, according to Deputy Supervising District Attorney Steve Lowney.

The horses—which, after a lengthy investigation, numerous news reports and ongoing complaints from neighbors, which were found to be emaciated and neglected—were seized by county Animal Care and Control Nov. 13. They had been under Uribe’s care on two properties he tended, one on Maple Avenue in Morgan Hill and the other on Center Avenue in Gilroy.

Uribe is currently in custody in San Mateo County on unrelated charges, according to the DA’s office. Facing a $250,000 warrant, he will be arraigned at a later date. If convicted of the local animal cruelty charges, Uribe could face up to three years in county jail.

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office did not return phone calls regarding what charges that jurisdiction has pending against Uribe.

Lowney said the DA’s office began receiving complaints toward the end of September from members of the public “deeply concerned about the treatment and care” of the horses. In late October, protesters picketed the South County animal control offices on Highland Avenue in San Martin, demanding the county officers take action against Uribe.

After reviewing the information obtained from the public and the reports from county animal control, the DA’s office in late September assigned a Deputy DA and an investigator to assist animal control in their investigation of possible animal cruelty and neglect, according to the press release.

Lowney and Deputy DA Alexandra Ellis met with concerned citizens several times during the investigation, the press release said. Throughout October and early November, investigators and animal control officers interviewed the defendant and witnesses, and collected evidence.

Some said they have been complaining about the care of the horses on Uribe’s properties for more than two years.

Horse advocates “will be continuing to insist animal control be held accountable for their neglect,” said Trina Hinesar, a resident of Maple Avenue near where some of the unhealthy horses were housed. “Maple Avenue was ignored for over two years and there are neighbors at the Center (Avenue) location that can testify to four years of animal control not enforcing our current Santa Clara County codes.”

Earlier this year, a concerned neighbor bought three of the horses, while the Equine Rescue Center and Sanctuary in Paicines purchased a dozen more, according to authorities. One of the horses purchased by ERC, a bay colt, died in September from complications due to intestinal parasites. The colt died the day after Uribe sold it.

But Uribe acquired even more horses, according to the DA’s press release.

Still, horse people rejoiced at the news of Uribe’s arrest and the seizure of the horses. Members of the Facebook page “Morgan Hill Horses in Need” have continued to post information about the horses and the county’s efforts to find good homes for them.

According to the MHHIN page, some of the animals have already been transported to a local horse ranch, but up to 30 remained in the care of the county. “We feel that the horses would be better off in a rescue organization that can tend to the horses’ various medical needs, then be adopted out” to the public, reads a Nov. 15 post on the Facebook page.

The horses are now listed for adoption, with a photo of each animal, on the county website sccountypets.org. County officials are seeking qualified individuals or rescue organizations to adopt the animals.

“For now, Animal Care and Control has assumed care and feeding of the horses until the horses can be placed in new homes,” said Amy Brown, Director of the Consumer and Environmental Protection Agency. “We will be screening applicants to make sure that potential adopters can properly care for the horses.”